The great thing about memory is that it is easy to trick. I went to Halong Bay last weekend and took some pretty (I think) pictures of its sunsets and the limestone islets and over time that is what I will remember. Unfortunately, the reality of it is rubbish.
Halong Bay is a UNESCO world heritage site but it is one in a country whose GDP is expanding at 7% every year and where 70% of the population are under 65. Vietnam is, therefore, one of those countries where the future will be made and is almost certainly where your Nikes are manufactured. However, what this means for a day to day tourist is that there is crap everywhere and the air has that never-ending pall of construction.
So as you drift around Halong Bay’s stunning landscape you can’t fail to notice that you are floating over plastic bags and the remains of the lunch from the boat ahead of you. Coupled with the sheen of diesel from the oversized vats (or tourist boats) charging around it means that you are dragged away from a landscape that looks timeless right back into the polluted present day. And then, you see a jellyfish limping along and wonder where its tentacles are and are told that they have been cut off and sold to China (for USD1).
Now that all sounds a bit raw and despite all the pollution and crass tourism Halong Bay remains an astounding experience. Still it could be so much more and ironically it is people like me and you who are at fault. The very reason the beaches around England are so nice and clean and my city of London is free of smog is because we have exported all of the damaging nasty stuff out here to countries who desperately need it to pay for their demographic curve.
Finally, make sure your tour lets you paddle around the islets on kayaks as that is the absolute highlight. If we had had time I would have done the whole tour slowly on kayak.
- Price – 150USD a person and transport back and from Hanoi